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Rs90m project launched to mainstream mental health

Islamabad : Waking up to the acute shortage and inequitable distribution of mental health resources in the country and unavailability of psychosocial support to the population, the federal government has embarked on a Rs90 million ambitious plan to address the issue.

With UNICEF chipping in the required funding, the three-month Mental Health and Psychosocial Support project is being executed by the planning and development ministry as a pilot in the Islamabad Capital Territory and will be replicated in provinces on successful completion.

Chief (health) at the ministry Dr Muhammad Asif, who is the brains behind the initiative, insists that it’s an ‘evidence-driven and rights-based MHPSS response’ to public health emergencies in the country.

“This project is meant first to raise awareness of psychosocial well-being and address stigma and discrimination of infected populations, support frontline responders and integrate MHPSS in response activities, second to provide psychosocial services to the most vulnerable population groups including women and children at risk, bereaved families, and people with disabilities, and third to facilitate mental healthcare to those suffering from mental disorders,” he told ‘The News’.

Dr Asif said the initiative was based on an assessment of mental healthcare needs, existing resources and gaps across the spectrum of care in Islamabad region and would help mainstream mental health in line with the country’s international commitments.

According to him, the initiative is significant for several reasons.

Firstly, it’s the first serious national attempt to prioritise mental health. Secondly, it’s being implemented with all relevant ministries, disaster management and rehab agencies, social enterprises and media being roped in for support, another first in the country’s history. Thirdly, it offers a template for provinces for trouble-free implementation in the current post-devolution regime, especially when they severely lack mental health expertise and resources. And lastly, it offers a fitting answer to the multifaceted challenge by going beyond the simplistic biomedical solutions to mental disorders and having psychosocial support to respond to national emergencies, humanitarian crises, and conflicts.

The chief (health) said there’s an electronically-integrated system to build the capacity of a mental health workforce and form referral links to offer therapeutic interventions at four tiers.

At the first tier, community members are trained to provide basic psychological support to the people in need and identify those needing further help, while at the second tier, a team of counsellors give away psychosocial support to frontline responders and other vulnerable groups in the stress-related conditions.

As for the third tier, a team consisting of medical doctors and clinical psychologists are trained to address common mental disorders in primary care, while at the fourth tier, a team of mental health specialists will offer consultation and facilitate referral pathways to other services.

“The training resources will be evidence-based, adapted to local needs and available in both English and Urdu. Training programmes will be accredited and offered on-job supervision,” he said.

According to Dr Asif, the web-based integrated system, which will also allow for data consolidation and reporting, includes a project web portal integrated with the learning management system and three apps to offer services in line with the international standards.

“If this pilot successfully engages the community, builds the capacity of mental health professionals and develops inter-sectoral collaboration, it’ll be a perfect response [to the growing mental health challenge] to be replicated by provinces and other regions,” he said.

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